The word, defense or apology, is found twice at the beginning of Paul’s letter to the Philippians. The letter starts out with mention of sender and recipients, followed by a greeting. Paul continues by giving thanks for the Philippian Christian community. He speaks of his defense and confirmation of the Gospel in partnership with the Philippians. Paul is in prison when he writes this letter. A little bit later in the thanksgiving, Paul mentions that his imprisonment has served to advance the Word. Furthermore, the Philippians have become bolder to share the Word as result of Paul’s situation and example. He emphasizes that he finds himself in prison for the purpose of defending the Gospel.
The defense of the Gospel involves its proclamation so that others may believe. To defend the Gospel is to witness to Christ. When Christians are witnessing, they are proclaiming Christ so that people may believe. To defend the Gospel is not a defensive measure in response to hostility, though hostility may be the case, but is an opportunity to share its power and truth boldly and humbly. An apology is not an “I’m sorry,” the primary use of the word in English, but is a “Let me tell you about Jesus Christ and why He is the truth.” Challenges to this witness will require answering questions and clearing up misunderstandings. The Christian response should be respectful of the antagonist, rather than coarse, crass, and caustic. The disciple is called to conduct oneself courteously both in word and action without a deference that compromises the sharing of God’s powerful Word. Saint Peter puts itwell: “Now who is there to harm you if you are zealous for what is good? But even if you should suffer for righteousness’ sake, you will be blessed. Have no fear of them, nor be troubled, but in your hearts honor Christ the Lord as holy, always being prepared to make a defense (mine) to anyone who asks you for a reason for the hope that is in you; yet do it with gentleness and respect, having a good conscience, so that, when you are slandered, those who revile your good behavior in Christ may be put to shame. For it is better to suffer for doing good, if that should be God’s will, than for doing evil. For Christ also suffered once for sins, the righteous for the unrighteous, that he might bring us to God, being put to death in the flesh but made alive in the spirit.” ( I Peter 3: 14-17 ESV)
Michael G. Tavella
March 11, 2019